top of page
skylark workshop086.jpg
Nicola invites members of Camberwell Skylarks to join in this event

We are keen to get involved in extra curricula activities be it local performance events or our own home grown sessions and info and reviews will be published on this page.


In summer of 2017 many of us took part in a workshop at the Young Vic to help in the development of one of the theatre's community shows called " Sing Before You Speak Again". Three members of the choir went on to take part in the final play, which was a complimentary piece to the theatre's production of 'Wings', starring Juliet Stevenson. The plays look at ways in which people with brain injury can lose their sense of reality, but adapt by exploring the repository of memory and feeling.

                                            FIrst Jam session


It was a freezing December evening when I shuffled onto a packed no.12 bus out of Camberwell clutching a bag  of music stuff, a good supply of pills and a new Yamaha acoustic steel strung guitar. I was down to lead a jam session or 'hootenanny' for the Skylarks and didn't know quite what to expect. I'd brought along a head full of songs, a pile of song sheets with as wide a musical appeal as possible. This was our first informal session with instruments, kindly hosted, with wine and eats, by Gary and Anita in the through-reception of their cosy late Victorian house.


The Pensioner Parkinson's Pickers from Peckham perhaps, as I like to call us - Yes I know it's not grammatical, but alliteration is obligatory in these titles. Line up - Tony ( who was a bassist for numerous 60s/70s artists) electric bass and guitar, Godfrey ( who can include playing on many classic recordings and collaboration with Emerson, Lake and Palmer over a long pro career) on violin, myself on guitar and voice, joined at times by Brian on spoons and harmonica and Gary on guitar and everyone else on voice.


We started in familiar territory with some Skylarks' songs – 'Lay down my burden' and 'Drunken sailor,' then branching out I tried a sheet shanty called 'Haul away Joe' that had come to mind the night before. I was soon away in the mid Atlantic hauling sails on a tea clipper. We moved to New York and the Great Lakes via the 360 miles of the 'Er-ie canal', a song i'd learnt from a Pete Seeger/ Weavers record, not the more famous Erie canal - Low bridge song, which Springsteen does on the Seeger Sessions CD.

Time for a change of pace whilst we explored the steely lyricism of Ewan MacColl's (his long term partner was Peggy Seeger) 'Dirty old town.'

I then tried out the singers on a tongue twister 'Rock Island line', a Leadbelly song that had morphed through Seeger again, to Johnny Cash, Lonnie Donegan and on to John Lennon and the Quarrymen.

Punk (out of my comfort zone now) soon came up with a request for the seasonal 'Fairytale of New York' by (daughter of Ewan) Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues; this led on to the high octane bonkers Blarney of 'The Irish rover' another hit for the Pogues, who'd joined forces here with the Dubliners.

Things really livened up when we gave a frenzied performance, with some great call and response work, of Muddy Waters' 'Got my mojo workin', and in a similar vein some rock and roll faves 'Rock around the clock' and classic blues 'St Louis blues' and 'St James infirmary' seemed to work well.

I'd just seen the Full Monty a few months back when I thought a disco classic like 'Hot Stuff' might just work on acoustic guitar with the group; it might shake us up if nothing else. I could tell the women were very upset when the chaps refused the request for the real full monty ( I must admit I was up for it) – I think we did manage to pull off the song, if nothing else.


Tony led on the old favourite 'House of the rising sun' and some other hits from that era like 'World of our own', the Beach boys' 'Help me Rhonda' and 'Sloop John B'

I introduced a strand I call Patter for Parkinson's, using fast patter songs to develop articulation with songs like 'the 'Rocky road to Dublin,' which never quite got off the blocks, but 'The nightmare song' from Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Iolanthe', went down much better.

To bookend one of our core numbers, the 'Toreador song' from Bizet's Carmen, we tried a lum de dum rendition of the well known theme from the opera – fiendishly difficult to do clearly and to speed with PD!


There was a nice change of pace when Pauline read her own poem,

'Just do it,' an ode to Parkies everywhere, a welcome fun take on living with PD, inspired by Victoria Wood's 'Ballad of Barry and Freda' - the hilarious one with beat me over the head with the woman's weekly line.

The session moved towards requests and general talk about songs. Having failed to remember 'Ain't nobody here but us chickens' by BB King, I surrendered to the mobile phone which quickly tracked down and played the song. I was being partly usurped by technology, which was fine because of its alas superior ability to find words, tunes and chords very quickly.


I think the session lasted around 3 hours and was great fun and challenging. In the future I could see how phones or kindles/ laptops would be very useful as an addition to the song sheets.


A number of suggestions and requests flowed from the session and I /Gary thought it would be worth putting together a digital booklet of songs.

Homework and possibles for future sessions : Shipbuilding, more ballads (Danny Boy, Those were the days ) and rock and roll,  Reggae , 

Possible songs: Heartbreak hotel, Careless Love , A change is gonna come, Ballad of Barry and Freda, some foreign language songs - Das Wandern (Schubert)

Hope to do more in the New Year at another venue - we're not sure where yet. Once again thanks to Gary and Anita for their kind hospitality.


Songs cut a vast geographical and emotional swathe through our lives. They join people across time, place and philosophy and they join us up inside: that's why I love them.

NP        Pics by Brian

bottom of page